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It’s an open and close case for the Saffrons

Several Antrim players are currently turning a blind eye to the close season playing ban — but unlike the furore which has accompanied a Cavan ‘trial match’ last weekend, there won’t be a murmur concerning the Saffrons’ activities within the GAA corridors of power.

Tómas McCann is holding down his place with Donegal Celtic while Sean O’Neill is proving his worth as a goalkeeper with Dungannon Swifts in the Irish League and now the pair will certainly be among the sharpest in Liam Bradley’s squad.

McCann’s brother Michael, the Antrim midfielder, is also on the books of Donegal Celtic as is Liam Watson, who won the Quinn Insurance Ulster GAA Writers Hurler of the Year honour just last month.

While Antrim’s soccer-playing fraternity continue to hone their skills and fitness, Cavan are under fire for allegedly breaching the November-December close season collective training ban by staging last Sunday’s trial match.

The county board’s defence is that no players from this year’s panel were used — but this is being disputed, with GAA President Christy Cooney himself spearheading the queries.

The Saffrons, meanwhile, have been adhering to the ‘collective training’ ban but manager Bradley is nonetheless hoping that Tómas McCann can further bolster his reputation in 2011.

“Tómas is one of the most gifted players in Antrim not only because of his pace but because of his versatility,” says Antrim spokesman Tony McCollum.

“We will be starting out in Division Two of the National League after the McKenna Cup and that is going to be a big challenge.”

O’Neill, meanwhile, has been cementing his reputation with Dungannon Swifts and is now expected to share the Antrim goalkeeping duties with Chris Kerr.

Just recently it was confirmed that veteran keeper Sean McGreevy and John Finucane would no longer be in the panel and this opens the door for the two newcomers.

Antrim may be missing the services of Kevin McGourty for the occasional game too, though, as he has been named captain of the UCD team that will be making a bid to land the Sigerson Cup.

Classy McGourty is regarded as one of the best half-forwards in the province and played a big part in the St Gall’s All-Ireland Club triumph earlier this year.

His brother CJ is currently teaching in La Salle School in Andersonstown and is also included in the Antrim squad while veteran Kevin Brady (31), a Downpatrick-based teacher, is once again included having made his debut for the Saffrons some 13 years ago.

Antrim squad: C Kerr, S ONeill; C Brady, A Douglas, A McClean, K O’Boyle, T Scullion, J Crozier, M McAleese, J Loughrey, A Healy, R Johnston; M McCann, B McCann, B Herron, A Gallagher; D McCann, T O’Neill, K McGourty, J Laverty, K Brady, T McCann, M Dougan, E McNeill, CJ McGourty, M Magill, P Cunningham, K Niblock, M Sweeney.

Belfast Telegraph

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